A year of growth for LA Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders

The LA Galaxy defense was vital to the club as they lifted consecutive MLS Cup titles, but key to their success was the play of goalkeeper Josh Saunders.

Saunders ended his 2012 season with 33 appearances in MLS regular season and postseason play, making 98 saves and notching ten shutouts. The 31-year-old goalkeeper also had a 1.33 goals against average during the regular season, a mark that was superior to a number of notable ‘keepers including FC Dallas’ Kevin Hartman and Chivas USA’s Dan Kennedy.

“It was a great year for us, it was obviously difficult all around, but we battled through adversity and came out on top,” Saunders told LA Galaxy Insider recently. “We continued the belief that we were going to win battle back and win a championship and we did.

“[The year] had its ups and downs,” added Saunders. “But heck, when you’re holding a trophy at the end of the year; it’s hard to go against that.”

But the year was a trying one at times for Saunders as the club struggled to start the season and then in spring, the goalkeeper enrolled in Major League Soccer's substance abuse and behavioral health program. An absence that ultimately caused Saunders to miss a total of six league matches for the Galaxy.

However, when Saunders returned to action on June 4, the Galaxy shot up the standings. LA went an impressive 18-6-4 in 28 games in regular season and postseason play with Saunders in net, culminating in LA’s second straight MLS Cup championship win over the Houston Dynamo on Dec. 1.

In MLS Cup, Saunders was active; making a pair of fine saves to preserve the Galaxy’s 3-1 victory over Houston.  After what was admittedly an up and down year that ended in another championship for LA, Saunders admitted that he’s grown both on and off the field.

“I’ve grown a lot. When you go through tough times then you learn a lot about yourself,” Saunders said. “On the field, we went through some tough times and there were some other outside aspects too. I’ve become more of an adult I feel like and more like a leader in many different ways than just as a soccer player.”

With the season over, the Galaxy must now decide whether or not to bring Saunders back to The Home Depot Center as he is currently out of contract. During his end of the season teleconference last week, LA head coach Bruce Arena told reporters that he expected to speak to Saunders and his representatives shortly.

“We’ll have ongoing discussions with him and his agent to see where he stands,” said Arena. “And we’ll make the decision as we go on.”

Since signing with the Galaxy in 2009—after joining the club on loan from Miami FC in September 2008 –Saunders’ has been with the Galaxy through the club’s rise from one of the lesser teams in the Western Conference to back-to-back MLS Cup championships.

Whether it was his ability to step in for an injured Donovan Ricketts during MLS Cup 2009 or winning back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012, Saunders has played an important role for the Galaxy during the past four seasons.

“Heck, since I got here, it’s been great,” said Saunders. “We've competed for trophies; we've won the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. It’s been awesome and it’s been very successful for me personally. I love the guys on the team and I love the fact that we’ve won a lot so it’s nice.”